Advanced Nymphing Techniques


Idaho Resident Craftsman/Artisan
I know we have some very experienced nymph fishermen on this site. I want to open a thread all about nymphing. Flys tips and tricks. If you have some good insight (and I know you do) please share! :THUMBSUP The best thing that has ever happened to me, (fishing wise) was when I met this old fly-fishing guru and he taught me how to nymph.

"Low-drag" strike indicators are one cool trick.

Strike indicators: Small dink floats. They're all I use. Being as buoyant as they are they don't put much drag on the fly under the water. And they don't need to be treated with anything. We all know that the water on the bottom of the river moves a bit slower than the water on the top so the trick is to make sure that your strike indicator is moving just slower than the bubbles floating by.

I have a couple other little tips and tricks that I will post as the thread progresses.




New Member
we could arrange a day on the Yakima where only nymphs would be allowed.
I personaly avoid dry flies even when fish are rising :DEVIL
I just love nymph fishing w/o strike indicators, usually without.
Is there anyone who boils his leaders?
I share your love of nymphing as I think it is the only thing that will work on some days. The only tip I can think of is the French method of nymphing.

Check the regs, as this is not legal in some rivers or lakes but is OK in some states and other areas.

Take about four good flies (the French use 6), remember the more you use the harder it is to cast and to fish them properly. Put a nice big floater as your top fly and strike indicator. A Joe's Hopper or any thing real boyant will work. Put a big leach or some sort of hellgramite nymph like a woolly bugger on the tippet end, and then attach two more wet flies or other jewels you think might be hot spaced in between. Be sure your tippet is smaller than all the rest of your leader or a rock might clean you out. Fish as you normally would, up to stink, let drift, mend as you go down. Watch that big dry fly as something may suck it down, but a little jiggle should be struck. Too many jiggles and no fish means your on the rocks and so shorten up.

If you think the French are nuts, forget it. They are the finest fly fishermen I have ever watched. The fact that they have won the past few world championship says a little something about their prowess.


Idaho Resident Craftsman/Artisan
Vpons, you've proposed a great idea. I fish dry's for some things but I love to nymph. I'll drop you an e-mail.

Bob, very insightful tidbit of information. I've never fished with more than 2 flies at a time. Might have to give it a shot sometime. And yes, you are right about needing to check the regs.

Ok for my next tip:

Don't nymph with too much line. The more line on the water the more mending you will have to do to keep from dragging the fly faster than the under-current. I see guys all the time who try to nymph using as much line as they can possibly cast. And then by the time they get their line on the water they are too lazy to mend it properly. Ok forgive me for being critical. You guys who fish this way and like it please don't stop. You are successfully upping my catch probability ratio. The proper amount of line to nymph with (I would say) is between 12 and 20 ft. Sometimes less. 20 ft. is pushing it. But again this all depends upon how "spooky" the fish are and or how good you are at mending. If you can put a perfect mend in your line at 40 or 50 ft then do it if you need to.

I as well have always done a multi fly setup. After fishing a year exclusivily in western montana, I have found nymphing to be the best day to day method of catching big trout. I have always used poly indicators, they are pretty easy to cast, they can be made by yourself, and they float well, even with splitshot. My tipical w. montana setup would be

2 - 8 feet of leader
24" tippet
top fly(ex. san juan worm)
bottom fly(ex. brassie, shaker, g.r. hares ear....)

I have used similar setups for dollies here and Alaska, using some kind of attractor egg pattern followed by a small trailing egg pattern. I hope this helps, Im no expert, but have caught my fair share of finiky trout using this method.


My name is Mark Oberg
I love nymphing, I catch much larger trout this way. One of the tricks I know and use was that when you tye the bug leave the front with lead and the back without ,so that you can lift it a little durring the drift and it will react acordingly. a few quick jerks usally gets a reply.


New Member
hey Boblawless,
don't forget that I'm french and I don't tie more than 10 flies on my leader. :BIGSMILE

In France, using a strike indicator is not really seen as ethically correct. same thing for the split shots.
In competition, I think that a maximum of 2 flies are allowed. No strike indicator, no split shot, no fluorescent leader. Nothing that could help you to see the strike.
crazy frenchies
I like to nymph with crickets, the way their little legs kick really brings in the big ones.

Ok, just kidding. I really use stoneflies instead...

I use a small (#12 size) tuft of real wool as a strike indicator, if the fish start hitting it, I tie on a white fly and use it instead. It is easier for me than always using a fly, and it looks very natural. Rob.
Good thread!

I was on the Yakima today fishing in the canyon and got around 10 rainbows on nymphs, using a double nymph rig. I have a couple of tricks I'd like to share...

I love nymph fishing, although not nearly as much as dry fly fishing, and learned my trade on the famous Colorado rivers and the surrounding areas. I fished a lot of tailwater fisheries that recieved a LOT of pressure, but these fish obtain gargantuan sizes (you wouldn't believe me if I told you). I was lucky enough to fish with and learn from a lot of the guides that fish these waters every day.

I've talked to quite a few people fishing the Yak this time of year, and most of them say they put on a large fly for weight and a small fly behind that. That is certainly an effective way to catch trout and to get the fly down, but it doesn't give you any control and you won't catch as many fish as you could.

Also, this is more effective when trout are keying on larger flies, but this time of year, you want to be using what the trout are feeding on, and that's small stuff. Here's how I do it. I've broken this posting down into a number of different key points to make it easier to read.


Key Point 1: Depth Control

Depth control is one of the most important keys to success in catching trout with nymphs. If your not touching bottom, your not deep enough. I build my nymph leaders with about 50 % 30 pound test, and then step down from there to 20, 13, 3x, 5x, 6x etc. When your nymph fishing, the leader generally doesn't turn over the nymphs anyway, it's the weight of the split shot that turns it over. This also allows me to have one long piece of mono to work with to move my indicator up and down.

The first key to controlling depth is your indicator. I like the yarn indicators personally, although I buy the ones from the store and then cut them in half. I find that they float great, I lather them with floatant at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day they're still floating. I tried the foam ones for a while, but they twist up your fly line and after a few hours fishing you have to take it off and let your line out into the current to get rid of the twists. White is my favorite color because it sticks out to me, yet doesn't look as spooky to fish as a bright pink indicator. That and I've had fish actually rise to my strike indicator while fishing a flourescent one, and that just doesn't seem right. I think the most important things about an indicator are that 1) it floats well, 2) it's easy to move, and 3) it doesn't move when you don't want it to.

Leader length is the second key to depth control. The old adage as far as leader length goes is one and a half times the depth of the water. While fishing on the Rio Grande in New Mexico, I met a guide who outfished everyone else I saw, and I of course watched him like a hawk to see what he was doing differently. I noticed that he spent quite a bit of time fiddling with his leader and his strike indicator, and when I finally talked to him about it, he was actually lengthening and shortening his leader, adding and removing split shot, and adjusting his indicator. It doesn't really take much time if you just spend a bit of time practicing off the water. Mostly, I stick with one leader length and use my idicator to control depth from there. My average leader length for nymph fishing in say the Yakima this time of year is between 9 and 11 feet.

To bring us back to the original point of using two small flies and controlling depth precisely, the third component of the system is weight. I carry one of those yellow selector packs (made by Moyen, they say "Super" on the top) with about 8 different sizes of split shot. Interestingly enough, in most situations, I use, and have for many years, mainly one size, the Number 6. This is probably because I have used that size for a long time, it has a good intermediate sink rate, and I am used to how fast it sinks.

If I'm starting out for the day on most waters that I know or have fished at least once or twice before, I'll usually use two Number 6 size pieces of split shot. This leaves me plenty of room for adjustment.

Adjustment is of course, the fourth key to depth control, and is very important. All of the REALLY good nymph fishers I've ever seen or fished with are always fiddling with something. Trout "generally" are holding in the bottom six inches of the water column, the area know as dead water (that is if they're not feeding on the surface and holding further up in the water column). This layer of water does not move nearly as fast as the rest of the water column, and therefore allows a trout to rest and hold in a feeding position without expending too much energy. Putting the fly into that zone is the key.

To give you an example, say I'm using a 10 foot leader, a size 18 Brassie and a size 18 BWO Emerger (my usual late Fall setup), with two pieces of #6 split shot. My indicator is probably six inches below my fly line on the leader. I make a few casts into likely holding areas, ie. in front of rocks, along the seam that is formed by the back eddy behind rocks, along seems of slack water/fast water, etc.

The water is moving quite fast, OR is quite deep, and in the first few casts, I notice I'm not getting anywhere near the bottom. I'm probably not going to catch as many fish like this! What do I do? Add another piece of split shot. I will RARELY, if ever, fish with more than four pieces of split shot, unless it's a super deep hole, but in that case I'm probably using a sinking tip anyway. If I find that I am still not getting near the bottom, I may add another two feet of tippet material for extra depth.

Let's look at the opposite situation. The water I am fishing is a bit slower, or shallower. Every cast I am snagging the bottom very early in the drift, and my flies are not spending much time in the "zone" as I'm snagging up too quickly.

I have three options, I can either take off a piece of split shot (pain in the butt), take off a bit of tippet (not going to happen), or shorten my strike indicator. So after I shortening my strike indicator, it's a bit better, but I'm still snagging too much. I will continue to play with the depth until I'm in the right zone.

From my experience, on the ideal drift, you should touch the bottom at the middle of every or every other drift. The middle of the drift is the point at which your indicator is adjacent to you. When you move to the next run down, you may find that you have to adjust again. I often find myself adjusting many many times throughout the day. It becomes second nature.

Key Point 2: Rigging

There are only three knots I use in fly fishing (in freshwater), and they are the double overhand loop (for creating a loop in the end of my leader), the triple surgeons knot (stronger than a blood knot, and also quicker to tie, I tie mine with three turns instead of the standard two, that's just the way I learned and I rarely have one break), and the uni knot. The Uni knot is much quicker to tie than the standard clinch knot (fisherman's knot), easier to tie in low light or cold situations, and is stronger. The average breaking strain that I found for a clinch knot is 78 % of the actual (not rated) line strength. The average breaking strain of a uni knot is about 90 % of the actual breaking strain of the line. I learned this while attempting to break the world record kahawai on a fly rod while I was living in New Zealand. Being a member of a local gamefishing club, I had access to line testers, and spent a lot of time testing knots. Also, Left Kreh fishes with the uni knot, and that should be all the proof you need.

A very important note I will mention here is when you are tying ANY knot, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is always lubricate your knot before tightening, by placing it in your mouth. I learned this lesson the hard way while working on charter boats, I lost a VERY large hammerhead shark for a client because of not lubricating the knot. If the knot isn't lubricated, it will "burn" when it is tightened, and weakens the knot.

The second point is to always leave a little bit of tag on all your knots, the number one reason why knots break is because they slip. Leaving a tag will help alleviate this problem.

There are many different ways to create a double nymph rig, but this is how I do it. To start out with, I usually use 5x floro to my first fly. I personally feel that floro catches more fish than regular mono, due to a lower light refraction rating, although I've never done any diffinitive studies on the matter and I may just be brainwashed by the line companies. This fly is attached with a uni knot.

My second fly is always tied to the bend of the hook, and is always tied with lighter line, in this case 6x. That way if your second fly snags on something, you don't lose both flies, you only lose the bottom one. In addition, if you find that your catching more fish on your bottom fly and they are both similar patterns, you may try dropping down a line class, as the fish may be leader shy. I attach this fly to the bend of the hook using a uni knot as well, I actually tie the knot in the tippet first, then place it around the bend of the hook and tighten (lubricate first). The second fly is attached again using a uni knot, and is between 12 and 24 inches behind the first fly, although mine is usually around 18". There are a number of different ways to attach split shot to your leader, and I've tried quite a few. The first way I tried was to just crimp the split shot directly onto the leader, but after watching friends catch more fish while I broke off more, I figured out I was crimping the mono. I then tried using a second piece of mono and tying it onto the leader above the first surgeon knot up from the fly, using a uni knot. The problem I encountered there was if the split shot snagged, it would tighten on the main monofilament line and break it. Finally, someone showed me a good trick. When I tie my surgeon knot between my 3x and my 5x (i.e. the tippet going to the fly, or the last surgeon's knot before the fly), I tie this connection with an extra long tag, and only clip one tag. I then crimp the split shot onto this tag (very tightly), and place two overhand knots in this tag. A word of warning, you don't want this tag too long or the split shot will get tangled up with the main line and anything else it can find. Usually, I start with a long tag, attach my split shot, tie my overhand knots, and trim. Keep the split shot close, as close to the main line as you can, but leave enough room for an extra piece of split shot in case you need it.

Key POint 3: Line Control

Line control is very important in nymph fishing and is usually overlooked. Many people fish very large strike indicators, which cause drag and also drifts faster because of the increased surface area. To get a longer drift and more control, fish close to yourself! Try to stay within 30 feet.

I will stand 7 feet inside of a current seam, and cast at a 25 degree angle upstream. As the rig drifts back towards you, strip line in. It should drift by you about 5-10 feet out, depending on the accuracy of your cast. When the inidcator is directly perpendicular to you, flick the like upstream of the indicator, WITHOUT moving it. If you move it, you will lose your depth. Feed line out as it drifts past, again without moving the indicator but also without placing too much slack on the water, or you may loose a fish when he strikes.

When the indicator has reached about thirty feet below you, hold onto the line. This causes the nymphs to swing upwards towards the surface, which can stimulate strikes from fish that mistake your nymphs for an emerging mayfly on speed.

Another trick a friend showed me is at the end of every drift, lift the rod tip sharply to set the hook. More times than you would expect, there will be a fish there, but you will never have noticed.

Much has been written about Zen and the art of nymph fishing, and in one of his books John Gierach talks about "just knowing" when to set the hook. Over time and watching the strike indicator, you will learn what causes the indicator to move a certain way, and why. Sometimes, you may even set the hook for no reason, and find a fish there. Any slight pause, twitch, and of course, submersion, is a reason to set the hook. You learn over practice which ones are fish and which aren't.

Key Point 4: Casting

Many people have a hard time chucking split shot and two nymphs because they spend half there time untangling there leader. The first thing to remember is when casting, OPEN UP YOUR LOOP! Slow down your cast, drop your rod tip more on your forward and back casts, and open your loop up. Most of the time when I'm nymph fishing with split shot, I don't use a standard cast, I use a roll cast, or a water haul. The roll cast needs no explanation, just make sure to keep your rod tip high so that the split shot has a chance to fully turn over and doesn't pile up on the strike indicator.

The water haul is simple, either allow the line to straighten out FULLY behind you, or roll cast the line out straight behind you. This will not work with slack in your line. Then, with the rod parallel to the water and pointing 180 degrees away from the direction you want the cast to go, using a fair bit of power, make a forward cast while doing a single haul at the same time, allowing the line to shoot as you do so. This is my most common cast while double nymph fishing.

Tight lines!

I would not call this advanced but it is effective. I usually fish about a 7 1/2' leader to which is attached two to three beadheads about 18" apart using a different strength leader material between flies and tying each section to the eye of the previous section. It is relatively easy to cast with an open loop. If it does get tangled, retie it as untangling is way too time consuming.

Sometimes if the water is faster or deeper I will forgo the leader and put in a section 2 1/2' or more LC 13 leadcore line to which I have albright knotted two 1 to 2 foot sections of mono with perfection loops in the ends. One end loops to the 12 to 18" of 25lb Maxima nailknotted to the end of my fly line. The other end is looped onto my 2 or 3 beadhead rig. The fly end may be 15 to 20 lb mono while the fly line end is usually 25lb. This is also an effective wet fly swing outfit for all species in faster or deeper water. LC 13 leadcore line is surprisingly easy line to cast and work with and it will save you a bundle on shooting heads or special fly lines. Most saltwater tackle stores sell it by the foot for practically nothing. I have looped sections tied up from 12" to 30'.

On spring creeks and tailwater fisheries I simplify with a 9 foot leader ending in 5x flourocarbon tippet to which is attached a size 18 or 20 beadhead nymph (pheasant tail, lighning bug, or midge (larva or pupa). I use the foam strike indicators (the hard finish ones with the black rubber tube through the open slot) attached to my leader right at the tip of the fly line. I cast up and across, across, or angled down and across depending how deep I want the fly to sink and then set the hook on change in the indicator drift.

These are not advanced techniques but do produce large numbers of fish considering their simplicity.


Paul Huffman

Driven by irrational exuberance.
I'm behind the times, I guess. I'll have to try some of this complicated bobber fishing. I've been getting by with high sticking or swinging, and it seems to me that from the bank with line management that I don't miss many strikes fishing from the bank because the line will come up tight so quick. But indicator fishing seems to especially have it's place when drifting in a boat or in slow currents.

So no one uses that "Biostrike" putty? I've tried it but it seemed like I kept flinging it off and pikeminnow kept hitting the orange color.

I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember how the yarn indicators are made. I know it's just 3 to 4 inches folded back on itself, but how is the loop tied? Just a few whip finish loops? Mono, thread, rubber band?

Bob Triggs

Stop Killing Wild Steelhead!
Okay, call me old fashioned, but here's my reply:
One fish.
One fly.

More than that and you increase the odds of doing allot of harm, injuring fish needlessly etc.

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